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Analy High’s “lights out defense” scored 14 points in the fourth quarter on two pick-six interception returns to seal the Tigers’ ticket to the school’s first North Coast Section football championship game after three previous losses in the semifinals.

The Tigers trounced Rancho Cotate in Friday’s NCS Division 3 semifinal 45-27, after turning a close game into a blowout with those two later interceptions.

“Our defense was lights out, lights out against a really dangerous offense,” Analy coach Daniel Bourdon said. “That’s probably the most dangerous offense in the area, arguably.”

The Tigers found a way to stop the Cougars’ lightning quick offense when it mattered.

A Moziah Ward touchdown closed the Tigers’ lead to 31-27 early in the fourth quarter. Rancho’s defense the forced a turnover on downs on a big fourth down play deep in Cougars territory.

Analy’s defense turned the tide on the very first play of Rancho’s ensuing drive. Schuyler Van Weele grabbed Gunner Mefferd’s errant pass near midfield and ran it back for a touchdown to help pad the Tigers’ lead to two possessions.

“I kind of got lucky with my positioning, but I was right there and I had awesome blocks that helped me bring it all the way home,” Van Weele said.

Rancho wasn’t out of it yet. Mefferd led the Cougars down the field for a few more plays on the ensuing drive, until Isaac Kangas picked him off and turned that into a 52-yard interception return touchdown that sealed the game.

“I saw the receiver running a slant and I just got in front of it, and caught it pretty luckily in my stomach,” Kangas said.

“It’s ineffable: It can’t be described. I’m pretty sure that’s the word.”

The Cougars showed off their ability to score quickly and often in the first half.

After a scoreless first quarter, Kangas’ 1-yard touchdown run put the Tigers up 7-0. On the very first play of Rancho’s ensuing drive, Mefferd found Chris Taylor-Yamanoha for a 63-yard touchdown reception to tie the game at 7-7. On the Cougars’ next drive, after forcing an Analy turnover on downs, Mefferd found Taylor-Yamanoha again for a 60-yard touchdown pass, to put the Cougars up 13-7.

Taylor-Yamanoha, a University of Louisville recruit, finished with 11 catches for 184 yards and three touchdowns in his final high school game.

Analy stormed back to take the lead at halftime 17-13 and lead after three quarters 31-21.

“I’m really proud of my kids and how hard they played,” he said. ““I really thought we had a great chance. We had been a great second half team this year and I really thought we were going to come out get it done in the second half and it didn’t go.”

The Tigers will play Campolindo in the Division 3 final Friday at Diablo Valley College. The teams have played two times in the past four years in the postseason. The first time, Analy upset the Cougars in the 2012 NCS quarterfinals, then lost to them in last year’s semifinals.

“We just want to kind of raise the bar each year,” Bourdon said. “We’ve got 13 wins under our belt. That’s something that Analy football has never done. We’re playing for an NCS title now. That’s something Analy football has never done.”

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